The Importance of Amnesty Policies: One Survivor Speaks Out

This was posted originally by SAFER Communications Co-Coordinator Megan at Change Happens

One of the great things about social media is the way that, to a certain extent, it has democratized public conversations. I think this is especially true when it comes to experiences that are hidden or marginalized, such as sexual assault or the decision to choose abortion. For this reason, I’m always happy and excited to spotlight the voices of the people who are most directly impacted by campus policy reform or lack thereof.

About a month ago, Avanti published an excellent post on the dearth of amnesty policies at colleges across the U.S. She found that merely 7% of the schools in SAFER’s CAP database include an amnesty or immunity clause in their sexual misconduct policy. This is especially concerning given that we know sexual assault to be the most underreported crime on college campuses. Survivors who fear punitive action by administrators because they were drinking or using drugs when they were assaulted are, quite understandably, less likely to come forward. As a result, perpetrators go unpunished and the cycle of violence continues.

Without further ado, I’d like to introduce Sarah, who has courageously written about her experience as a survivor who wasn’t able to seek justice because her former school’s sexual misconduct policy lacked an amnesty clause.

My name is Sarah and I’m 21 years old. I’m a survivor of rape and since that night I’ve worked hard to get where I am today. I’m currently working towards a degree in Education so that I can one day be a high school science teacher and maybe even a professor. I’m also working towards becoming an advocate for sexual assault awareness and helping others out there by supporting and educating. I thrive on hope because hope is out there.

The phrase amnesty policy is not something I had ever heard before. I walked into my freshman year of college excited and completely unaware of how my life would be changed forever. Halfway through the year, I decided to go out with my roommate and a friend of ours we had met a couple months before. That night I drank more than I can remember. This friend decided to take advantage of that and back at our dorm, he raped me. I don’t remember much of what happened. In the months to follow, everyone I knew took his side. I was alone and did not know where to turn.

I didn’t report what happened, at least not “officially.” I told a nurse at the health center, but she blamed me for what happened. She told me that’s what happens when you go out drinking and partying. I started counseling at school shortly after and she led me to an officer on campus. I told the officer what happened. She asked if I wanted to report it but I was so terrified of getting in trouble or being blamed that I said I would call her the next day with my decision. I never called.

I recently learned that an amnesty policy basically gives immunity from campus discipline for other school policies that were violated at the time an assault occurs (such as drinking or doing drugs). The problem is that very few schools offer this. That leaves students, such as myself, terrified of saying anything. I swore up and down to myself that if I said anything I would get kicked out of my dorm. How would I explain that to my parents? Without an amnesty policy, students are discouraged from speaking out and getting the help they need.

A year after the assault I transferred schools and just recently I decided to take a look at the sexual assault policies at both my previous and current school. I did not even know the policy existed at my first school. I don’t think I would have even known where to look for it at the time of the assault. I was never told it existed and no one ever showed it to me. This is an important issue that needs to be present and addressed at schools. Students should know where to look and where to get help when they need it.

As for the policy at my present school, it is better but still lacking. Like many schools, it needs an amnesty policy and some fine tuning. I want to work hard to change this as I cannot imagine someone else going through the same thing I did. Drinking and drugs play a large part in many sexual assaults and with that brings a lot of blame. When someone is drinking or doing drugs at the time of an assault, it’s so easy to turn on them and blame them for what happened. As a society, we don’t want to admit that these types of things can happen to us, but until we start to admit they can and do happen, things will never change. Without support, survivors are forever silenced. Schools need to be held accountable and start taking action to make their environment a safer place for everyone. We need change and it needs to start now.

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